When we see a blind person, most of us feel sad, or we may think it is terribly unjust, or even feel a little guilt.
Studies have shown that 1 out of every 100 school kids has a visual impairment and needs special assistance..
Low vision conditions are not easy to detect and teachers (or even parents) may not notice the affliction till a chance eye-check-up reveals it. Meantime the impaired kids settle down to the bottom of the class, as under-performers in the classroom.
Further, 1 out of every 200 school children is partially or totally blind. Such kids are more easily noticed but driven away by the system to often poorly equipped special schools, blind schools, or deprived of an education altogether, because mainstream teachers in the education system are under- equipped and not trained on how to handle such children.
School teachers in India must either secure a Diploma in Education (D.Ed.) or a Bachelor or Education (Bed.) degree before teaching. Unfortunately less than 1 in 1000 B.Ed. /D.Ed. teachers are familiar with skills and techniques that will enable them to deal with visually impaired children. Such teachers are not taught even basic skills in subjects like Access Technologies and Orientation & Mobility – subjects which are relatively simple to learn.
In a vast and populous country like India, only 15 colleges (Special Education B.Ed.) & 4 National institutions in this vast country attempt to make teacher trainees familiar with Access Technologies for visually impaired students. Though laudable, such schools are currently handling a relatively miniscule 600 teachers out of an estimated 600,000 teachers that India produces annually, to meet the demands of education nationally. Therefore only 1 in 1000 teachers get a chance to know how vision impaired in the class rooms can be handled.
Enter the newly launched Vision-Aid Online Academy (VOA)
Through its simple and scalable model of training, by 2016, Vision-Aid through its new VOA initiative, is hoping to reach what the entire Indian Special Education system is doing today. The combination of innovation and virtual technology makes it scalable. Training is high tech, fast track ,short duration, focused, on-line and is capable of covering the country with great cost effectiveness.
The Vision-Aid Online Academy (VOA) rollout involves the installation of “Virtual Stations” comprising all the required equipment (Hardware and Software) at a particular location. Virtual nodes can either be Teaching Virtual Station (TVS) – equipped to allow teachers to conduct live online classes or Student Virtual Station (SVS) – allowing students to learn interactively from remote teachers. So far we have established one TVS at Vizag and one SVS at Mangalore with our partner Seva Bharathi – to pilot the first online course at the Roman Catherine Lobo School for the blind. This will be followed soon by one more SVS at Kolkata by the end of December 2014.
Each Teaching Virtual Station (TVS) has Tripod Camera projection and capable of supporting teaching by two teachers who can use the platform to conduct interactive live training. The initial plan is to have teachers using the platform by rotation from Mon-Sat from 11:00-13:00 IST each day. Each student station also has a computer/monitor with a projection camera and speaker/microphone setup. It can seat 3 students. Live interactive classes are streamed via Vision-Aid's partner Gyanmantra’s EMC platform (based in New Delhi), at prefixed/appointed hours based on a pre-arranged schedule. It is expected that classes in a single session will go on for 2 weeks of interactive tuition. As the program evolves, it is expected to include comprehensive learning options including self-paced learning modules, and online testing/certification. Using these tools, in addition to live classes, students will also be required to complete appropriate levels of offline homework / preparation.
Prior to this new initiative, a Vision-Aid center typically trains 50 visually impaired students and 100 sighted teachers each year. Taking advantage of the power of online teaching methods and virtual learning, Vision-Aid is poised to increase the teachers volume to much larger scale, targeting to reach 600 school teachers in 2 years. For this, Vision-Aid has developed 2 certificate courses Administrator in Computer Applications (ACA) and Orientation and Mobility Training (O&M).
We believe the Vision-Aid Online Academy (VOA) will be a game-changer in Indian inclusive education!
Another year has passed and it is now my fourth time participating in the annual Vision Aid production.
The first indication of a great summer starts when you begin check mark weekend after weekend with Dance / Arangetram invitations and Evites! The most I look forward every year is the “VisionAid Fundraiser” which has become the premiere dance event of NewEngland.